Written by

Rebecca Kelly - Associate Solicitor

Medical misdiagnosis can occur when your GP or any other health professional provides you with an inaccurate or delayed diagnosis. Unfortunately mistakes can happen and health professionals can misdiagnose a condition which can have devastating consequences for patients and can lead to delays in patients receiving the treatment that they require. 


What are the different types of misdiagnosis? 

When it comes to misdiagnosis, there are different types of diagnostic errors that can occur: 

  • Incorrect diagnosis – this occurs when the patient is misdiagnosed with the wrong illness and this can potentially lead to the patient receiving the wrong treatment which can cause further harm.
  • Failure to diagnose – this occurs when a condition is missed altogether and the patient does not receive any treatment. 
  • Delayed diagnosis – this occurs when there is an unnecessary delay in diagnosing an injury or disease, or where there is a late diagnosis that has led to fewer treatment options or a worse outcome. 

Medical misdiagnosis can have very serious implications for patients because it can delay treatment or potentially lead to a patient receiving the wrong treatment. This could then lead on to further health complications and potentially life-threatening consequences for patients that have been misdiagnosed. 

Misdiagnosis can also cause emotional distress, anxiety and financial stress for the patient and their family. It is therefore important that healthcare professionals are conducting thorough examinations so that they can provide patients with an accurate diagnosis. 


Common forms of Misdiagnosis 

Misdiagnosis can occur in many different forms and as already mentioned, can be devastating for patients. Some common forms of medical misdiagnosis are: 

  • When a serious illness has progressed without being correctly identified 
  • When wrong medication has been prescribed to a patient due to the patient being misdiagnosed with a different condition, potentially resulting in the worsening or prolonging of the patient’s condition
  • Delayed treatment due to misdiagnosis 
  • Misinterpreted test results

There are many other forms of medical misdiagnosis and any misdiagnosis can potentially cause a patient unnecessary harm and distress. 


Most common Misdiagnosis 

Medical misdiagnosis can have serious consequences for patients and below are some of the most common injuries or diseases that are misdiagnosed in the UK. This data is derived from information released by the NHS and is based on what injury/ disease had the largest number of successful claims closed between financial the years of  2017/2018 to 2020/2021 with damages paid where the primary cause was failure/ delay diagnosis or wrong diagnosis. The injuries/ diseases that contributed to the most successful claims were:

  1. Unnecessary Pain 
  2. Fatality 
  3. Unnecessary operations 
  4. Cancer
  5. Fracture
  6. Poor outcomes
  7. Advance stage cancer
  8. Psychiatric/ psychological damage 
  9. Bowel damage/ dysfunction 
  10. Nerve damage 
  11. Brain damage


Cancer Misdiagnosis

Cancer misdiagnosis is common in the UK with 558 successful claims being closed between 2017/18 – 2020/21 due to failure/ delayed diagnosis or wrong diagnosis relating to cancer and advanced stage cancer. 

Cancer misdiagnosis occurs when the signs and symptoms of cancer are not spotted by a medical professional, or the medical professional presumes that it is a different illness. Cancer misdiagnosis can have devastating consequences for patients because this may mean that you are receiving a delay in the treatment that you need and could potentially mean that your condition can become more severe. According to the NHS, diagnosing patients at an earlier stage means that patients have more treatment options, and this means that it will be more likely that the patient’s cancer can be cured. 

Because there are so many different types of cancer, symptoms can range from unusual bleeding, to weight loss, and this means that extensive diagnostic testing is required to see if a patient has cancer. If this is not done and the patient receives a delayed, missed or incorrect diagnosis, there can potentially be serious outcomes for the patient. 


Misdiagnosing Fractures 

Fractures are also among the most common injuries/diseases that are misdiagnosed in the UK, with 259 successful claims closed between 2017-18 – 2020/21 due to failure/ delayed diagnosis or wrong diagnosis in the NHS. Misdiagnosis of a fracture can have significant impacts for a patient because it can lead to delayed or incorrect treatment and this can have severe consequences on the patient’s recovery. 

A failure in diagnosing a fracture could be due to the fracture being missed during an X-ray or MRI, or there could have been a failure in conducting adequate tests and investigations for the patient. However a fracture is misdiagnosed, it can potentially cause serious complications for the patient. 


Common causes for Misdiagnosis 

When you have been misdiagnosed, this can come with complications. Some reasons why misdiagnosis can occur: 

  • Miscommunication – miscommunication between medical professionals can mean that a patient is misdiagnosed 
  • Lack of experience – if a healthcare professional does not have a lot of experience, they may not be able to diagnose certain conditions. If a medical professional is not familiar with a condition, they should refer the patient to another medical professional so that the patient is receiving the correct diagnosis
  • Overlapping symptoms – different conditions can have similar symptoms and this can make it difficult for healthcare professionals to differentiate between the two conditions, potentially causing misdiagnosis for a patient


Medical Misdiagnosis Negligence 

When a patient is diagnosed with an injury or a severe condition, it can be devastating. This can be made much worse if the condition was not diagnosed properly or there was a delay in receiving the diagnosis. 

Medical misdiagnosis can have serious implications for patients, there could be delays in treatments, conditions becoming worse and any other serious complications that could arise from misdiagnosis. If you have experienced any form of misdiagnosis for an injury or a condition, then please get in touch and one of our medical negligence experts will be there to support you through your claims process.

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